Sunday, January 19, 2014

Helping My Friends Be Healthcare Savvy

Practically a Book Club, December 2013
During our last book club meeting, the conversation shifted to health care. One of my friends was told she needed to pay $1,700 for a MRI of her knee, another had a bill from an anesthesiologist for $2,000 from an appendectomy that was done in-network, and the list went on. I couldn't sleep that night because I was fretting over my friends being taken advantage of by a system they didn't fully understand. Some are covered through huge employers like the federal government, others have coverage through small non-profits, but no one had an HR team like we have at ASHA to turn to for help. One of my friends is from Canada, so our way of doing things in the U.S. is completely unfamiliar. The next morning, I emailed everyone and offered to host a little get together for us to talk about health insurance. I put this deck of slides together and created the sheet below for our discussion. 

I truly don't understand why employers spend so much money on health insurance for their employees and their families and then put so little effort into educating them on how to get the most out of it. People can't value what they don't understand. And, you can't expect people to make cost conscious decisions if you don't give them tools to compare their options. My friends were shocked when they saw the difference in cost of a care between settings:
  • Convenience Care Clinic $50
  • Provider's Office $70
  • Urgent Care Center $130
  • Emergency Room $850

We actually paused our discussion to locate our nearest CVS Minute Clinic. I promised to pass along this information about obtaining additional health insurance for traveling out of the country and a link to the Wage Works site where they have a nice tool to compare health insurance choices. 

It will certainly take more than one conversation for people to be confident navigating the system, but this was a start. I know I'll approach the next conversations I have at work about health insurance with a renewed commitment. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Building Better Bento

When I hit the doldrums of January, I found my lunches were loaded with carbs. It's easy for me to eat lots of fruit and vegetables when my local farmer's market is in full bounty. Not so much when I'm shopping at Giant for produce that's been shipped from somewhere in South America. My colleague, Emerald Ong, posted a picture on Facebook of her new bento box and I was inspired. I ordered the Yumbox Emerald has, a sophisticated looking Bentgo box and some egg molds. It's worked wonders. I've enjoyed packing my lunches and eating them this week.  

My lunches this week -- Tamagoyaki Bento, Mediterranean Bento, and Salad Nicoise Bento.

If bento is an unfamiliar term to you, as I understand it, it simply refers to a single-portion takeout or home packed meal in Japan. There is kyaraben bento or character bento that is an elaborate portrayal of characters from Japanese cartoons. There is 
oekakiben or picture bento that is decorated to look like animals, flowers, etc... I'll leave it to you to do your own research from here if you're intrigued. 

I shared these pictures on Instagram and have had many inquiries about my new bento boxes. So, here are links to my new toys. Molding the eggs is simple, you just hard boil them like you usually do, peel the egg while it's still hot, and then pop it into a mold. Here's a nice little tutorial I ran across on Youtube.


Check out the inspiration board I created on Pinterest for more ideas. 

Bon app├ętit!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How Popular is Our New HSA?

Not quite as popular as the color purple...

ASHA Staff on Spirit Day
Photo by Ben Sledge

We introduced a high deductible health plan with an HSA as a new option for 2014. It is a pretty appealing plan with ASHA funding half the deductible for staff. Now that open enrollment is behind us. I took a few minutes to look at the selections staff made. 

  • 272 eligible staff
  • 227 (83%) participate 
  • 106 (47%) chose the Choice Plan (network only)
  • 81 (36%) chose the Choice Plus Plan 
  • 40 (18%) chose the new HSA
  • 12 (30%) of the staff in the HSA maxed out their contributions – A good sign that they are using it as a longer term savings vehicle.
  • 2 (50%) of the HR team selected the new HSA. (That includes me.)

I did lose a bit of sleep at end of the year worrying about the people that elected the HSA spending all the money they had in their 2013 FSA. I had been advised to eliminate the grace period on our FSA to ease the transition, but I had shrugged off the advice confident that I could communicate this requirement to our well educated and engaged staff. (You are ineligible to open an HSA if you have an FSA. You can learn more about that in this post.) In the end, everyone did, but not before a lot a fretting on the part of the HR team and a series of phone calls, emails and personal visits. (Six of the 40 people still had account balances on December 30.) Here's an example of a message I sent in one of our last ditch efforts to compel folks to spend down their FSAs. It seemed to get people's attention.
I know Emily’s been in touch with you and you realize you have to spend that last $13.80 in your FSA today or tomorrow to close it. One thing you could do is go into the FSA store and buy some things using your card. Here’s a link --  
If you submit a receipt now, Flexcorp won’t have time to process it and close your account before the new year. So, it’s a little late to wrap things up that way. If your FSA account is not closed tomorrow, we won’t be able to open your HSA until April 1. That would mean that you’d be responsible for the deductible without access to ASHA’s contribution for the first three months of the year. 

Now we are shifting our focus from educating staff on how to chose a health care plan to how to be savvy healthcare consumers. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Paying for Your Care with a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)

​A staff member recently asked me this question. I know I'll be responsible for paying the allowed amount until I reach my deductible, but how will I know what that is?
Image from

At the time of service, remind your provider that you're in a high deductible health plan and explain that you don't know exactly where you are relative to meeting your deductible and what the allowed amount will be. Ask them to submit the claim to UHC and then bill you. 

You may encounter a few high tech providers that can instantly submit a claim and see how much of your deductible you've met and the allowed amount. They are likely to request payment at the time of your visit. This is more likely to happen if you're having out patient surgery or being admitted to a hospital. 

Either way, you can use your HSA debit card to pay your portion of the cost. If you're billed for services, you can also go onto and make your payment after reviewing the explanation of benefits. 

Pharmacy claims are a little different. The pharmacists will know what you owe and you'll have to pay that amount when you pick up your prescription(s).

United Healthcare shared this piece with us in the helpful Welcome Kit we received when we enrolled in the the Choice Plus with HSA at ASHA.